Supermarket squeeze: Paying more for less

CBS

Nowhere are rising costs hitting Americans harder than at the gas pump and the grocery store, places we spend one-fourth of every dollar we earn, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"It really is a very significant drag on our economy at a very difficult time," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

Over the past year, prices have sky rocketed. The cost to fuel cars has jumped more than 33 percent -- but it's the six to seven percent rise in food costs that is hurting consumers the most. Americans on average spend twice as much on food as they do on fuel.

Suburban Chicago mom Julie Weinberg now shells out $300 a week to feed her family of four. And she's noticed that although she's spending more, she's getting less.

"The juice boxes I'm buying, the packaging changed, the quantity within the packages changed," said Weinberg.

Appearances can be deceiving. Consider three boxes of cereal. They are different flavors, but all the same brand, the same size, and all the same price. But, look closely and the amount of cereal inside varies from box to box. From 17 ounces to as little as 13.

Remember that half-gallon of ice cream? It's now a three-eights of a gallon -- two cups less.

Making matters more confusing is that there are few standardized sizes of products anymore. Oreo cookies now come in more than 20 different sizes, ranging from 2 ounces to 50. Consumer Reports Magazine calls this way of hiding a price hike masking.

"Companies don't fess up and come out and say, 'Hey everybody, we're giving you less and we're charging you the same,'" said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports.

Experts say the only way to decode the true cost is to look at the unit price, but between juggling work and family who has time to read the fine print.